I’m the co-founder of a 500 Startup company, currently in the batch that was in the middle of the whole Dave McClure scandal.
We all had to think deeply about the current issues and my personal conclusion that there is one even deeper element missing in the interpretation of the recent events, which is that the Silicon Valley VC culture is not a culture of empathy, but quite the opposite.
For example, while wee all appreciate the candid feedback, the directness and sometimes unpleasant carelessness with which people are told stuff in the startup environment, this attitude has at it’s core, the idea that if one is too concerned for the feelings of someone, one is doing a disservice to this person. “In the “real world” nobody will care”.
While this is true and often useful… the risk of constantly praising this attitude, is institutionalising lack of empathy and I think this is ultimately the cause in many of these scandals.
The risk is turning something useful.. into a mindless habit that at some point starts extending beyond work and ultimately makes us lazy to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.
The sad possibility is that some of these people which have been so praised for being direct, careless and rude… may have been ultimately been even blind enough, to not even take the perspective of the person they were ultimately harassing and realise they were. And this is WORSE, not better.
The paradox is that, 500 Startups, that was caught in the middle of this, represents the most diverse, international and inclusive place in the startup world I have even seen…
and I think this is evidence that it is possible to have all the necessary principles, efforts and and motivations to build a diverse and inclusive company, we may still fall victim our own carelessness, ego and lack of empathy.
My fear is that by only pointing to “power play” as a cause, we may fail to see an even deeper issue, that is so entrenched and part of the identity of the Valley. We may build more rules (that are indeed necessary) but not ultimately push for people to have a more empathic point of view that may allow them, even when they have all the possibility to do harm, to empathise with the people around them and find it impossible to do so.